Colon cancer refers to cancer of the large intestine (colon), while rectal cancer refers to cancer of the last six inches of the colon (rectum). Cancers affecting either of these organs are collectively known as colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men around the world, and fourth most common for women.
Colorectal cancer occurs when some of the cells that line the colon or the rectum grow abnormally and uncontrollably. Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as small, benign clumps of cells called polyps. Over time some of these polyps may become cancerous. Polyps may produce few, if any, symptoms.
Regular screening tests can help prevent colon cancer by identifying polyps before they become cancerous. If signs of colon cancer do appear, they may include changes in bowel habits, blood in our stool, abdominal pain, bloating and fatigue.
Colon polyps are a common condition that affect up to 30 percent of older adults in the US. This condition is characterized by a small cluster of cells that form on the lining of the colon, also known as the large intestine. Most polyps are not cancerous and are simply a result of abnormal cell growth, but some can gradually turn into colon cancer, so regular screening and removal of all polyps is important.
Small polyps do not usually cause symptoms, but larger ones may cause rectal bleeding, bloody stools, constipation, diarrhea or pain. Polyps can form anywhere within the large intestine and are can vary in size and appearance depending on the type. The three main types of colon polyps are:
- Adenomatous - most common and account for 75% of all colon polyps. If they are larger than about 5 millimeters, there is an increased risk of becoming cancerous
- Hyperplastic - usually smaller than 5 millimeters and rarely cancerous
- Inflammatory - may occur as a result of ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease and are usually benign
Certain factors may put you at a higher risk for developing colon polyps. Some of these factors include being over the age of 50, being male, a family history of polyps, smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity. Regular colon screenings are recommended for people over the age of 50. If any abnormalities are found or you are experiencing signs of colon polyps, your doctor may perform a series of diagnostic tests such as a digital rectal exam, barium enema, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
If a colon polyp is discovered, it will likely be removed in order to prevent the chance of cancer. Most polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, while others may be burned with an electrical current or surgically removed. Surgical removal can often be performed laparoscopically to minimize scarring and recovery time.
You can help reduce your risk of developing colon polyps and cancer by having regular screenings and maintaining an active and healthy life .Talk to your doctor about different steps you can take.